The naked ones in the forest

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Above is a short documentary about the isolated Mascho Piro tribe in Peru's Amazon jungle region.

The Mascho Piro are hunter gathers who are increasingly coming in contact with the outside world. The villagers they are encountering, and sometimes attacking with deadly force, are Christians. Some of the villagers are also descendants of the Mascho Piro. Regardless of blood ties, they consider the Mascho Piro as brethren who are living a sad life in the jungle and should be brought into the folds of civilization.

Acting as a buffer between the two are the Protection Agents. They're concerned about the effects of contact on the Mascho Piro, particularly exposure to disease and the realization that, were the Mascho Piro absorbed into civilization, they would end up on the bottom rung of society -- the "poorest of the poor" -- as they struggle to adjust.

It is a complex and tragic situation. In their desire for machetes and iron pots the Mascho Piro have no idea what they are walking into. That said, in these situations I always wonder about the logic of keeping such groups of people artificially isolated. What purpose does it really serve? Aren't they already the "poorest of the poor" with short life spans and high infant mortality among the negatives? How much of this desire to isolate is more for the vanity of the anthropologists then the benefit of the Mascho Piro and, more importantly, their descendants? I don't know.

For a related post see He gave us lollies.